Burlington Free Press: Dairy farms face deadline for protection
With a Friday deadline looming, about two-thirds of Vermont dairy farmers have yet to grab a federal lifeline being offered to help battle against high feed costs and low milk prices.
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Vermont Agriculture, Food and Markets Secretary Chuck Ross Jr. were among a series of speakers at a Monday news conference stressing the urgency for farmers to enroll in the new federal insurance program known as the Margin Protection Program for Dairy.
The program is designed to provide a safety net for milk producers and avoid some of the past volatility in dairy production margins. It is designed to protect against severe downturns in milk prices, rising livestock feed costs, or a combination of the two.
"After a long fight in Congress, dairy farmers finally have a real safeguard against the booms and busts of the market," Welch said.
"While 2014 has been a good year, history tells us that milk prices can drop quickly and dramatically. This insurance program will give farmers peace of mind by insulating them from the punishing roller coaster ride of milk prices."
The flexible program offers protection to dairy producers when the difference between the milk price and the average feed cost falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.
Officials said 190 out of the 874 active dairy farms in Vermont as of Nov. 1 have signed up for one of the proposals. Diary operators are allowed to self-select a plan for their needs.
Another 100 Vermont farmers have reached out to get information, according to Robert G. Paquin, the state executive director of the Vermont Farm Service Agency.
Ross, the state secretary for the past four years, noted that farmers need to address the issue as if a major piece of machinery broke down on the farm.
"This is the problem that needs to be addressed this week," said Ross, a former state legislator and farmer.
"It's a business decision. You need to manage your risk," he said. Farmers failing to enroll by Friday won't have a another chance to sign up until July 2015.
Ross said he see no other federal or state programs on the horizon to bail out farms.
Eric Clifford, a Starksboro farmer with 200-plus head of cattle, said he looked at the various options and decided what was best for his farm operation. He said all farmers need to do similar reviews.
"We see it as buying insurance," Clifford said.
Paquin said farmers can sign up through the nine Farm Service Agency offices across the state: Williston, Middlebury, St. Albans, Morrisville, St. Johnsbury, Newport, Rutland, White River Junction and Brattleboro
Welch and U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., fought to include the program in the new farm bill signed into law this year.